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The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border
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The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  11,737 ratings  ·  1,830 reviews
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under ...more
Hardcover, 250 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Riverhead Books
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Dan In an interview with the Francisco Cantu, mentions vaguely about Jose's and his family:

"Audience Member: I don’t feel I can call you Paco because I d…more
In an interview with the Francisco Cantu, mentions vaguely about Jose's and his family:

"Audience Member: I don’t feel I can call you Paco because I don’t know you, but I really would like to know, having read your book, whether you’re still in touch with José’s family, or have you seen José himself?

Lauren Markham: I also want to know that.

Francisco Cantú: I can tell you that José is alive. I can tell you that I’m in touch with him, but it makes him unsafe to tell you any more than that. He is living a very precarious life. It doesn’t matter on which side of the border he is; that life is very precarious. Seeing José’s story unfold and becoming close with his family and his boys, who had never crossed the border, seeing all the ways that the border was brought to them, shows us how these borders work. It’s really hard to understand that the kinds of fear that undocumented people are living with is the kind of fear that we would imagine someone in a faraway war-torn country living with. I know undocumented people who are afraid to leave their homes, I know undocumented people who literally think a helicopter is going to land in their yard. They think that’s legitimately in the realm of possibilities. The helicopter will land in their yard and take their kids away."

Melissa Hi Steve,

According to a Vox interview, Cantu left the BP when he became a Fulbright Fellow. He went to the Netherlands to study rejected asylum seeker…more
Hi Steve,

According to a Vox interview, Cantu left the BP when he became a Fulbright Fellow. He went to the Netherlands to study rejected asylum seekers who decided to stay after their deportation orders.(less)

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Will Byrnes
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” Kelly said. “The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”
Immigration experts cite various reasons why people eligible for DACA’s protections do not apply. These include lack of knowledge about the program, a
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
*3.5 STARS*

Francisco Cantú grew up on the US/Mexican border where his mother, (a second generation Mexican - American) was a park ranger. Francisco loved the landscape - the national parks and desert landscapes, and living in close proximity to the border ignited a curiosity in him to learn more about border control. He decided to pursue a degree in border relations, and although his studies provided some insight into the problems, he needed to see how things worked in the real world, and became
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2018
I really enjoyed this book and don’t understand at all the venom being directed at the author, a former U.S. Border Patrol Agent. Looking at some of the reviews of this book, it’s pretty clear the most vitriolic reviewers never read the book at all or read only a portion of it. I think Cantu presents a pretty balanced and fair view of U.S. and Mexico border issues and the impact policy has on lives on both sides of the border.

Cantu earned a degree in International Relations and learned a lot abo
Nat K
"I dream in the night that I am grinding my teeth out, spitting the crumbled pieces into my palms and holding them in my cupped hands, searching for someone to show them to, someone who can see what is happening."

This book is INTENSE.

I cannot imagine being a border patrol officer anywhere, let alone an area with so much historical significance and fraught with as much difficulty as the U.S/Mexico border.

I think it would be soul destroying. I believe that most people become officers with the best
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Trish by: Diane
This book seems too small for all it accomplishes. The quiet watchfulness and introspection of the Prologue tamps down opinion before it develops. We are here to listen, to understand. It is such a quiet read, immediately alert to the tension inherent in a grandson of immigrants policing the border.

This is a beautiful book, a beautiful physical object. Riverhead Books formatted the inside to be a kind of art, using gray pages to separate the sections and lines to guide our eye, delineate our tho
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir by Francisco Cantú covers his time in the U.S. Border Patrol and his thoughts, dreams and associations to that work. It brings in family, friends, co-workers and considerations of how he approached his work. I wondered for a long time whether he would change the job or whether the job would change him. Now I know.

Cantú’s Mexican heritage has a significant impact on his work as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexic
Montzalee Wittmann
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Line Becomes A River (Hardcover) by Francisco Cantú is a very emotional book. I was angry, depressed, sad, but I don't think I was happy once in the book. The guy of the story, his mother was a ranger and he grew up loving the outdoors and near the border. He has Mexican heritage. Interested in the politics of the border, he takes classes in college and gets a degree but still he wants to be up close and know more. He becomes a border guard and describes the training and what it was like. He ...more
Canadian Reader
Slim and beautifully written, The Line Becomes a River is a powerful, deeply humane piece of nonfiction about the lives of Border Patrol agents and desperate migrants on the frontier between the U.S. and Mexico. This is a hybrid work: part memoir, part meditation, part expository piece. Richly allusive, it refers to the works of many writers on immigration, history, politics, and psychology. Aspects of Mexico’s geography—its flora and fauna, its culture and history, its wars of independence ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read, mexico, usa
Winner of the Whiting Award for Nonfiction 2017
"When I was in school, I spent all this time studying international relations, immigration, border security. I was always reading about policy and economics, looking at all these complex academic ways of addressing this big unsolvable problem. When I made the decision to apply for this job, I had the idea that I'd see things in the patrol that would somehow unlock the border for me, you know? I thought I'd come up with all sorts of answers. And then
Francisco Cantú was a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona and Texas for four years. Agents tracked illegals using the same skills with which hunters stalk their prey. Once captured, the would-be immigrants were detained, processed and deported. Days in the field were full of smuggled drugs, cached belongings and corpses of those who’d tried to cross in inhospitable conditions. Even when Cantú was transferred to a desk job, he couldn’t escape news of Mexican drug cartels and ritual mutilation of ...more
The waters of the river flowed pale and brown, liquid earth washing over me like so many human hands, like a skin unending. . . . . All around me the landscape trembled and breathed as one.

I’m in a state of wonder at the unique voice of Francisco Cantú, gentle and poetic—and I’m aching with sorrow at the stories he shares — including his own journey of moral wounding that perhaps can no more be healed than each unique and irreplaceable person— each with a name, each mother, father, son, daughter
First of all, in giving the book three stars, I am stating that I like it, that I am glad to have read it. There are aspects I do not like, and thus have not given it more.

The book consists of a prologue, three parts and an epilogue. The prologue depicts an experience the author shared with his mother.

The first two parts relate Cantú's experiences employed at the United States Border Patrol, first as a field agent and then later as an intelligence officer. Cantú is a third-generation Mexican-A
Wendy Trevino
Jan 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is a book for the #bluelivesmatter & #alllivesmatter crowd. I hate that crowd.

from an interview in the San Antonio Express News:

"Q. How does the image of the Border Patrol square with your experience?

[Cantu]: Agents have been represented as callous, and they have come to expect that. But some of the people I worked with were some of the most intelligent, humane people I’ve ever met. It’s the largest law-enforcement force in the country, 18,000 agents. It’s bigger than the FBI and the DEA. I
May 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“Love Thy Neigh or as Thyself.” ~Jesus

I stood on the bridge that crossed from Laredo to Nuevo, Mexico while watching a teenage boy crawl through a broken chain link fence. He walk to the river’s edge and took off most of his clothing. Then he held his clothes over his head and waded through the shallow waters of the river. Once across, he disappeared into the bushes to get dressed, and then he moved on. It looked so easy. I knew he was just going to Laredo, because he had no backpack, nothing th
Mikey B.
A very eloquently and moving book of a man who initially worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in New Mexico and then Texas.

He has studied law and international relations and wanted to participate in the practical applications of what he had studied. His mother warned him, prior to joining, that any institution (like the U.S. Border Patrol) would come to contaminate his life – to slowly take over. It is a rare thing indeed to change an institution from within. He begins to realize this as the job ma
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A young man arrives at a crossroads. It is a time of questioning. Where to turn which way to go to find the crucial missing pieces of knowledge? He wants to understand the border. Against the advice of his mother he joins the border patrol. She worries what this will do to him and what he might become. He protests, seeing himself as a person who speaks Spanish and can possibly offer help. He needs to know. With that, this naturally inspired man journeys on in his new career. Troubled by nightmar ...more
Claire Reads Books
Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 ⭐️ There’s a lot to admire here in the way Francisco Cantú writes about the US/Mexico border, but his own place within the story (his Mexican heritage, his motivations for joining the Border Patrol, and his regrets about implicating himself in a deeply flawed system) remained hazy for me. This is a book of loosely-structured vignettes, but I wish it had had a clearer framework—it reads like a promising first work that could be fleshed out into a more substantial, probing book.
I was not aware of the controversy surrounding this book and its author when I chose to read it. Had I known how hurtful some would find this book, I wouldn't have read it. I take the protesters' point that people who are concerned about the state of the U.S./Mexico border should seek out the voices of immigrants who have experienced it firsthand very much to heart, and such a book is next up on my reading list (The Distance Between Us). ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this for a book club meeting that I had to miss because of a cold, and I'm sorry I missed what should have been an interesting discussion. The Line Becomes a River portrays the realities of the border, and the trouble of separating the border patrol from the end results. The dehumanization of migrants and refugees is real, and I appreciate the inside look from multiple perspectives that Cantu is able to find. ...more
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it
"I’ll keep on trying to cross"
This certainly not is a book that gives you happy feelings. I mistakenly thought it was a novel, but this is docu-fiction, apparently based on the author's own experiences. Francisco Cantu focuses on the border between the United States and Mexico, and how little people are grounded by it, both the Mexicans desperately trying to enter the US and the border guards who are "in the system". Cantu himself is of Mexican descent, and is mesmerized by that border, to t
Jan 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I don't find the ethics of this book interesting, nuanced, complex, or human. What's being posed here, is the worst that literature has to offer, and is a variation of a genre already used by the cultural propagandists of the so-called "free world." It's a cop-loving dead end of a universe, made by collaborating with the forces of death that this book pretends to mourn, it is selfish and degrading. This book tries to humanize hunting down other people. ...more
An extremely frustrating read about Cantu's time as a border patrol agent and then his desperate desire to be redeemed because he deigns to accept Mexicans attempting to cross the border as human when he makes a friend of one after he leaves his job. Cantu is Mexican-American, so the reviews suggesting it's a white guy's story are incorrect -- the Mexican-American aspect is precisely why I picked this up, and it's precisely why I'm so irritated that there's literally no explanation for why Cantu ...more
Joy D
“One of my principal goals in The Line Becomes a River was to create space for readers to inhabit an emergent sense of horror at the suffering that takes place every day at the border. In narrating my own gradual participation in the various degrees of violence inflicted in the fulfillment of our nation’s immigration policies and enforcement practices, I sought to leave room for readers to construct their own moral interpretation of the events described.” – Francisco Cantú, The Line Becomes a Ri ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
From up here in Canada, so far away from the southern border of the USA, it is really hard to understand the visceral reaction this book has engendered. It is quite a feat for a book to be hated on all sides of an argument; most of the hatred I've read about seems to stem from the viewpoints of the haters more than any objection to the book itself. I felt that Cantu was balanced in his approach to the story. The writing was beautiful and the characters were real and meaningful. Of course there a ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, 5-stars
"Some politicians in the United States think that if a mother or father is deported, this will cause the entire family to move back to Mexico. But in fact, the mothers and fathers with the best family values will want their family to stay in the U.S., they will cross the border again and again to be with them. So you see, these same people, the ones with the most dedication to their family, they begin to build up a record of deportation, they have more and more problems with the government, and ...more
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Francisco Cantu´ descending from Mexican immigrants and having worked for long years as a border patrol officer has written a mesmerizing and very emotional account of his confrontation/trauma of what it means to live the reality of the Mexican/American frontiers!!

I appreciated and valued it so much to hear the voice of an insider..
Because you know what, politicians they like to talk and talk of things without having seeing and lived the truth of the real situation at all!!

And I was so motivated
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so good! Cantú was a US border control agent for four years and ‘The Line Becomes a River’ is a true reckoning of what he witnessed, did and was implicit in. It’s heartbreaking and so well written!
‘I don’t know if the border is a place for me to understand myself, but I know there’s something here I can’t look away from. Maybe it’s the desert, maybe it’s the closeness of life and death, maybe it’s the tension between the two cultures we carry inside us.’
‘The part of you that is capa
Roman Clodia
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So you see, there is nothing that can keep me from crossing. My boys are not dogs to be abandoned in the street. I will walk through the desert for five days, eight days, ten days, whatever it takes to be with them. I'll eat grass, I'll eat cactus, I'll drink filthy cattle water, I'll drink nothing at all. I'll run and hide from la migra, I'll pay the mafias whatever I have to. They can take my money, they can rob my family, they can lock me away, but I will keep coming back. I will keep cros
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
What does a college degree in international relations prepare you for? For Francisco Cantú, it was four years in the U. S. Border Patrol—described by his own mother as ”a paramilitary police force” and ”a system, an institution with little regard for people”— on the southwest American border. Coming from a Mexican-American family with deep roots in the southwest and family ties in both the U.S. and Mexico, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border Cantú portrays himself as on a search ...more
Diane Yannick
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In rating this book, I have ignored a few narrative flow problems that occasionally annoyed me. (You can tell the author is a poet who doesn’t want to be constrained by sequential, focused narrative arcs.) I gave it this rating because this is an important point of view to hear in the whole immigration debate. People have boycotted some of Cantu’s book signings because to them he represents the evils of police brutality. I question whether these protestors have read the entire book.

Cantu, who h
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Francisco Cantú served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas from 2008 to 2012. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award. His essays and translations have been featured on This American Life and in Best American Essays, Harper’s, Guernica, Orion, n+1 and Ploughshares. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Articles featuring this book

  The United States of America is an awfully big place. Sensibly, we chopped it into states a long time ago. This simplifies...
448 likes · 156 comments
“You spent nearly four years on the border, she said. You weren’t just observing a reality, you were participating in it. You can’t exist within a system for that long without being implicated, without absorbing its poison. And let me tell you, it isn’t something that’s just going to slowly go away. It’s part of who you’ve become. So what will you do? All you can do is try to find a place to hold it, a way to not lose some purpose for it all.” 13 likes
“There are days when I feel I am becoming good at what I do. And then I wonder, what does it mean to be good at this?” 8 likes
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